École Banette near Orléans and was accepted. Within six months, he had graduated with two diplomas: the CAP (certificat d'aptitude professionnelle or certificate of professional competency) and the BP (brevet professionnel, a higher professional certificate). Within the Banette system, a beginning baker may be supported by a miller who helps him or her get a foot in the door by providing market research, technical and commercial assistance, etc., in exchange of which the baker becomes a customer. Éric and Cathy thus learned of a bakery coming up for sale in Le Croisic on the coast of Brittany, fifty miles or so west of Nantes. (Le Croisic is right near Guérande, known worldwide for its famous sea-salt). They sold everything they owned and in 2004, as soon as school let out for the summer, they uprooted themselves and their three kids and moved to Brittany.
La Petite Boulangerie, owned and run by MOF Franck Dépériers, (MOF means Meilleur Ouvrier de France). Making it in Nantes would definitely be a challenge. But at that point in their lives, a challenge was exactly what they were looking for.
Minoterie Girardeau, which had been in the same family for four generations and still stone-milled all of its organic flours. By then it was 2008. They went to work. This time though Cathy was no longer in the back making chocolate (something she had greatly enjoyed doing in Le Croisic's cool climate and big lab): the new lab was simply too warm and too small. So she put on a new hat and took charge of sales and catering. "I love interacting with people, so I am fine," she told me with a twinkle in the eyes before leaving the floor to Éric, only to reappear a few minutes later with a luscious little cake that I was made to sample on the spot, the gâteau nantais, a regional specialty. The taste was like nothing I had every had before: a cross between a French almond cake and a baba-au-rhum. Now I am not a cake person and I never liked rhum very much (my older brother's favorite cake was baba-au-rhum and I always dreaded his birthday growing up) but were I to be magically transported to Dame Tartine's actual palace, Éric and Cathy's gâteau nantais is what I would wish the walls to be made of! "Very easy to make!," proclaims Éric, "The secret is to use good butter, good rhum (and a lot of it) and the best almonds you can afford." There was indeed so much rhum in the slice I had that, had I indulged in a second one, I would probably have been over the legal alcohol limit for driving. (For the recipe which Éric and Cathy generously offered to share before I even asked, click here).
- A liquid starter (100% hydration) based on T65, a farine de tradition française, a wheat flour to which no additive can legally be added and which retains 0.62 % to 0.75 % minerals (see this classification of French flours - in French). Used for baguette de tradition.
- A firm starter based on organic T80 wheat flour (flour which retains 0.75% à 0.90% minerals). Used for all organic breads besides the kamut and the spelt.
- A firm spelt starter. Used for the kamut and spelt bread because of its lower gluten content.
- A high-gluten starter based on farine de gruau (T45). Used at Christmas time for panettone.
- A levain nantais: liquid starter based on farine de tradition to which beurre roux (brown butter) is added at feeding time. Used for viennoiseries as well as for fouace, a regional bread traditionally made at vendanges (grape harvest) time.
- A starter based on levain nantais to which brown sugar syrup is added at feeding time. Used for fouace as well.
For baguette dough, Éric feeds the starter and lets it ferment for two hours. Next he incorporates flour and water by mixing them together for three minutes, lets the mixture autolyse for two hours, does the final mix (four minutes on first speed), lets it bulk ferment at room temperature for two or three hours, divides and shapes, then retards it for sixteen to twenty-four hours. He explains that by treating the dough gently and barely mixing it, he helps preserve the aromas and taste a prolonged high-speed mixing would inevitably destroy.
La Meilleure boulangerie de France.
Croissant & moulin à vent au citron (lemon pinwheel)
Pain aux raisins (raisin roll) and raspberry croissant
Laiterie de Montaigu in nearby Vendée, honey from Ruchers du Pays blanc in Brittany, etc. Unsold bread goes to food banks and customers can buy an extra baguette and leave it at the bakery for the first person in need who will walk in and ask for it. Cathy keeps track on a big slate behind the register. On any given day, an average of fifteen baguettes are thus shared. I love it.
Crème des pains
Left: Seeded country loaf. Right: Le Rustique. Front: Le Norvégien
A slice of Norvégien
- PBC makes no gluten-free bread
- All flour blends are done in-house
- Except for the baguette, all bread is sold by weight
- Dough for the baguette is hydrated at 78%. The starter gets only one feeding and a two-hour fermentation before being put to work. It gets incorporated in the final dough at the same time as the coarse sea salt
- All seeds are toasted then soaked
- To roast the flour, Éric puts it in a 320°F oven for a total of fifteen minutes (mixing it every five minutes to prevent it from burning)
- Spelt bread contains 40% seeds (sunflower, soy, buckwheat and brown flax). Made with malt syrup and firm levain and hydrated at 120%, it keeps five to six days and is a best seller
- The fruit purées that go into some viennoiseries contain only 10% sugar
- Crème des pains is made with farine de tradition and crème fraîche. It has a brown butter aroma
- The Saint-Félix is made with farine de tradition and wheat germ. It has a thick crust and a robust chew
- Le Norvégien is made with three different whole-grain organic flours (spelt, rye and wheat), six different seeds and three kinds of dried fruit (fig, cranberry and apricot). It bakes for two and a half hours in large 3-kg pans. It keeps for several days
- Salt content: from 1.77% for baguette and related doughs down to 1.13% for rye, with spelt and kamut hovering at 1.50%.